Redrawing congressional map will be contentious, lawmakers say

Friday, February 25, 2011

With the release of 2010 census data, Missouri lawmakers can get to work redrawing the state's congressional district map, a process that some say could become to a contentious turf war as both parties attempt to protect their political interests.

The redistricting commission, made up of 28 state legislators and split evenly between Democrats and Republicans, will begin gathering public input from residents across the state over the next two weeks. Hearings begin today in Springfield, Mo., though they will also be held in St. Louis, Kansas City, Poplar Bluff and other communities.

At issue will be reducing the overall number of congressional districts from nine to eight, which lawmakers called a devastating blow that will cost the state influence in Washington and federal dollars flowing into Missouri. Missouri didn't lose population but didn't grow as quickly as other states.

One of the legislators overseeing the process, state Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country, reported Thursday that the target population for each of the eight new congressional districts will be 748,615. The 8th District, which includes Cape Girardeau, stands at 656,894.

Legislators filed the redistricting bill in January, establishing that Missouri would have eight districts, but held off drawing the boundaries until they got the actual census figures. Dropping to eight seats puts Missouri's size in Congress at the smallest it has been since before the Civil War.

The process of redrawing those boundaries is expected to be rough.

"There's no doubt that there's going to be hard feelings by at least one person, probably more than one person," said House Speaker Steve Tilley, R-Perryville. "It's unfortunate that we lost a seat, but we did. So we're going to have to deal with that and try to do a good job."

Tilley said he hopes the House committee has its redistricting work done in two months. Both chambers, where Republicans hold majorities, must approve a redistricting bill and send it to Gov. Jay Nixon for final approval. If no compromise can be reached, the matter would be sent to the courts.

The public hearings are a key part of the process, Tilley said.

"I think it's important that constituents know what the boundaries are going to look like and who their congressperson is going to be," he said. "We need to get this done. We have other things we need to focus on: putting people back to work and balancing the budget."

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, is on the Senate redistricting committee. He does expect that losing a congressional seat will be "very, very controversial," he said.

"But this isn't a Republican or a Democrat issue," Crowell said. "Both parties are united that this is a devastating blow to the state."

Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, agreed it wouldn't be a pretty process.

"I think it could be a dog-eat-dog-type situation," Hodges said. "Let's face it: Who wants to give up their seat to somebody else? Who wants to give up their territory? I don't see either party wanting to give up much ground."

But first the public hearings must take place. Lawmakers need to focus on one thing at a time, said Sen. Scott Rupp, R-Wentzville, who chairs the Senate redistricting committee. Then the legislature can sit down and draw a map that incorporates the census data while keeping what the public has in mind.

"We're going into this with an open mind," Rupp said. "We don't know where it will end up. But we want this to be a very publicly engaged process. We're going to draw the map and put it out for people to see."

Missouri's state House and Senate districts will also be redrawn as part of the process, but lawmakers the Southeast Missourian spoke with indicated any changes to district boundaries would have little effect on Southeast Missouri.

smoyers@semissourian.com

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Pertinent address:

Jefferson City, Mo

Map of pertinent addresses

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